I do not know what goes on in the Cabinet meetings of our inclusive government. Save for video clips of government ministers awarding themselves computers on state television. In any event, it is now public knowledge that the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity issued what can only be considered a ‘threat’ to all editors who publish ‘leaked’ information about cabinet proceedings. Even though I am not an editor, and I have no ‘cabinet sources’ I am personally persuaded that that there must have been some cabinet decision to purchase luxury vehicles for ministers. Whether it was by consensus, vote or decree, we might never know. But we can at least verify the purchase of these ‘beasts of the road’ by seeing our erstwhile ministers riding around in them (especially the doubting Thomases). Their true cost to the government, the nature of the awarding of the tender to supply them is probably something protected from publication under the Official Secrets Act, though the fact that they are being driven is not so ‘secret’.
Neither is the fact that there has been no official explanation as to why the vehicles were purchased in the first place ever since the story appeared in the media. The Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti was reported to have told a journalist from the Daily News that he should ask the Minister of Transport and Communications, Nicholas Goche about the cars. And then he was reported later to have said that in fact, money to purchase government cars was within the 2010 budget allocation. This money comes to a total of US$1,5 million but was not utilized in the same period. He did not however explain the cost and source of funds for the vehicles that our ministers are now utilizing, assumedly for government business.
Now because I do not have ‘sources’ in Cabinet, I do not know why the procurement component of government opted to not re-allocate the money to other essential services of our national economy particularly health and education. In fact the money might could have been simply added to this year’s allocation for the Basic Education Assistance Model (BEAM). But the government probably feels this is not a priority even though it’s a priority for many of our country’s poor.
I also assume that perhaps the lack of an official statement from Cabinet on this issue might be indicative of government’s assumption that any expressions of concern over this unnecessary expenditure will probably fizzle out from public debate or mainstream media. Well, I know that Landrover Discovery vehicles do not just fizzle out. In fact, they are extremely durable and so is their status symbol. Indeed the official descprition of these ‘beasts of the road’ from the manufacturer states, ‘The Discovery 4 GS is the perfect combination of style and capability, equipped with seating for up to seven adults, four-corner air suspension and Land Rover's unique Terrain Response® as standard. Other advanced features include automatic climate control, a harman/kardon® nine-speaker audio system and Bluetooth® telephone connectivity. There is a superb 3.0 litre, 180kW diesel engine with technically advanced parallel sequential turbochargers and six-speed adaptive automatic transmission.’ http://www.landrover.com/gb/en/lr/discovery-4/explore/gs/
Now if this descprition does not fit that of a vehicle for the wealthy of an already wealthy society, I do not know what else will. Except that Zimbabwe is a poor country, with poor people. A country saddled with a government that treats its ministers like multi-national company corporate executives and its people like muted audiences in the theater of opulence.
And should you take the individual ministers to task on this matter you might be accused of undermining the inclusive government. God forbid that you are not charged with treason by Cabinet itself for daring to ask for a comparison between their luxurious vehicles and their performance in government. But then again, I wonder if anyone is watching their performance? Civil society remains muted, with only one organization, the Committee of the Peoples Charter asking questions of these distasteful spending sprees by the inclusive government.
Even though the government thinks this will go away, or at least not be a public issue for a prolonged period of time, at least it has been said. And when the Ministers drive or are driven in their vehicles, they should at least know that the people are watching. Some with envy, but the majority with serious disappointment at this display of the ‘politics of the belly’.